The middle part of the back is referred to as the thoracic spine, and it contains more independently moveable vertebrae than the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine) areas. However, because of the added protection from the rib cage and organs, the middle back area isn’t a common place where disc herniations occur. However, it’s still possible to experience disc-related discomfort that originates in the thoracic spine. Here’s what you need to know about thoracic disc herniations.
Before discussing treatment, let’s look at what might cause thoracic disc damage and the symptoms you may experience. A unique characteristic of thoracic vertebrae is that discs in this area are thinner than those found in the lumbar and cervical spine. This is because there’s less space between each of the spinal bones in this area.
Ordinarily, this isn’t a problem because the neck and lower back absorb more of the burden from daily movements than the mid-back does. However, sudden trauma, poor posture and incorrect body mechanics, and age-related changes (degenerative disc disease) can contribute to thoracic disc herniations.
Stress in the mid-back area from work-related tasks or certain physical activities can also play a role in the development of disc problems in this part of the spine, as can poor eating habits and smoking. Symptoms that could be related to thoracic disc herniation include:
• Noticeable pain relegated to the middle back area • Discomfort in this area triggered by movement • Pain that extends to nearby areas (radiating pain) • Abdominal discomfort • Localized pain that may be accompanied by numbness, muscle weakness, or swelling
Accounting for about one percent of all disc-related issues, thoracic disc herniations are rare. For this reason, it can be difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. If a physical examination and a discussion of your symptoms suggests you may have a herniated disc in the mid-back area, an image test can be done to confirm this suspicion and rule out other possible sources of the discomfort.
Treatment for thoracic disc herniations usually begins with conservative (non-surgical) options. It’s common for anti-inflammatory and pain medications to be prescribed or recommended to ease nerve irritation and minimize discomfort. Activity modification sometimes helps if pain is linked to certain movements. Depending on the nature of the symptoms experienced, your Los Angeles spine surgeon may suggest treatments that include:
• Rest for a few days • Immobilization (e.g., temporary bracing) • Heat/cold therapy • Stretching and therapeutic exercises • Physical therapy that may include massage therapy • Thoracic epidural steroid injections
Some patients with thoracic disc pain respond well to a combination of traditional and alternative treatment methods. For example, chiropractic adjustments sometimes naturally shift discs and restore proper spinal alignment. Alternative treatments may also involve acupuncture, certain yoga poses, mindful meditation, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or guided imagery.
Herniated disc symptoms originating from the thoracic spine sometimes subside over time even without medical intervention. However, if your discomfort keeps coming back or gets worse even with conservative treatment attempts, surgery may be recommended. Discectomies and microdiscectomies (partial or complete disc removal) are the most common procedures performed to relieve nerve compression due to disc damage. Patients may also be treated with alternatives to spinal fusion. Los Angeles residents may benefit from a procedure such as a total disc replacement.
If you think you have a herniated disc, no matter where it may be located in your spine, don’t hesitate to consult a spine specialist for diagnosis and treatment. The spine heath experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience in every aspect of back and neck health. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.